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Brexit Brings Changes to SME Imports

Brexit has been front of mind for a few years now ─ ­but the start of 2022 meant significant changes started to take place on our borders.

At the end of December 2020, Great Britain (GB) and the EU agreed on a new trade deal.

The new trade deal prevents tariffs and quotas, which would have made it more expensive to trade (although it doesn't completely prevent them from being introduced in the future). This is important because the EU is the UK's largest and closest trading partner.1

However, traders will now need to make customs declarations just like they do with other third countries, so the process is more complicated. It means a series of new checks have been introduced to ensure standards are maintained. These checks will require more planning and preparation if your business brings in any products from outside the UK, making an immediate impact on imports from the EU (except Ireland) into Great Britain. These introductions include:

  • Full customs import declarations are now needed for all goods coming in, at the time you or your courier/freight forwarder brings them into Great Britain.
  • Customs controls will be exercised at all ports and border locations.
  • Companies bringing goods into Great Britain may need a supplier's declaration proving the origin of the goods.
  • Commodity codes used to classify the foods for customs declarations have changed and must be checked.
  • The Deferred Declaration Scheme does not exist anymore.

What does this mean for British SMEs?

All businesses moving goods into the UK from the EU will need to present a valid declaration about their goods and gain clearance from customs. Without this, the goods will not be released into circulation within the UK.  

In addition to documentation declaring where the goods have come from (i.e. been bought from), businesses may also need to prove where the goods originated from ─ i.e. where they were produced or manufactured ─ to potentially benefit from a reduced rate of customs duty.

Deferred Declarations

Until 1 January 2022, businesses were permitted to provide supplier declarations after the import. This was called the Deferred Declaration Scheme ─ staged customs controls meant paperwork could be submitted after the goods arrived. This has now been abolished, and these declarations ─ and any duties and charges ─ need to be already completed so they can be submitted at the point of goods entry to the UK.   

If checks cannot be made at the border, goods could be directed to an inland border facility. This could be a costly and time-consuming process and, depending on the nature of the goods being imported, could be disastrous for SMEs ─ for example, those importing perishable ingredients, plants or live animals.

There is the option to apply for Simplified Declarations Authorisation from HMRC, which allows goods to be realised ─ however, this can take up to 60 days, so planning ahead is key. 


SMEs need to be clear on who is responsible for obtaining the declarations and duties. If you are working with a courier or freight business to transport your goods, you must check your contract with them to establish who is responsible for making the declarations. It is your responsibility to have the paperwork ready to prevent delays and damages to your goods and additional costs incurred by drivers being held up. You also need to ensure your insurance policies consider the new risks. 

Future changes

SMEs also need to be aware of future changes ─ from March there will be additional border control checks on live animals, low-risk plants and plant products. There will be mandatory safety declarations for all cargo and certifications for most veterinary and phytosanitary cargo in July. All dairy products will be added in September, and in November, all remaining veterinary cargo will undergo the certification and checks.

Most businesses hire a specialist intermediary to deal with all import declarations and the complexity of the process does mean the government strongly recommends this approach ─ and can connect you with the right organisations to help. HMRC also provides a regular email update service to ensure businesses can stay on top of all changes and continue.

The SME Brexit Support Fund has been set up to help businesses adapt to these changes.2 SMEs can apply for up to £2,000 to cover any additional costs incurred in making the necessary changes.

As more changes come into force, it will be essential to be prepared.



1. Statistics on UK-EU trade - House of Commons Library (

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